by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 2, 2017
Two previous columns on this subject, found here [Cardinal Müller Covers His Eyes] and here [More on Cardinal Müller’s Blindfold], discussed the blindfold that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), seems to have donned — or that was forced upon him — respecting the blatant opening in Amoris Laetitia (AL) to Holy Communion for public adulterers in “second marriages”, particularly in the key passages found in Chapter VIII, ¶¶ 300-305. Müller insists there is nothing amiss with AL, that the document is in accord with traditional teaching, and that the dubia the four cardinals (Brandmuller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner) have presented are unwarranted and even temerarious. [Louie Verecchio at AKACatholic puts it more strongly in The face of diabolical disorientation: “Cardinal Gerhard Müller is quickly becoming the Poster Prelate of Diabolical Disorientation …”]
But now comes an interview of Müller published in the Italian magazine “Il Timone” wherein, as the always-astute Sandro Magister notes, the Cardinal is clearly engaged in a stealth correction of Francis. There is no reasonable doubt that Müller is taking aim at precisely that interpretation of AL concerning which Francis himself has declared “there is no other interpretation”: i.e., that in “certain cases” people engaged in continuing adultery denominated a “second marriage” may, based on the subjective judgment of the individual conscience via “discernment” (AL ¶ 300-305), receive Holy Communion while persisting in adulterous carnal relations.
Consider these questions and answers from the interview (translation by Magister):
Q: Can there be a contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience?
A: No, that is impossible. For example, it cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin. For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace. In order to overcome this absurd contradiction, Christ has instituted for the faithful the Sacrament of penance and reconciliation with God and with the Church.
Q: The exhortation of Saint John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio,” stipulates that divorced and remarried couples that cannot separate, in order to receive the sacraments must commit to live in continence. Is this requirement still valid?
A: Of course, it is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments. The confusion on this point also concerns the failure to accept the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” with the clear doctrine of the “intrinsece malum.” […] For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.
This is simply staggering. Müller here declares to be “impossible” and an “absurd contradiction” the very thing he knows full well Francis has explicitly authorized in his letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires and also implicitly authorized by publication in L’Osservatore Romano of the “guidelines” of the Maltese bishops permitting — nay, mandating — the admission to Holy Communion of any member of the faithful who “discerns” that he is “at peace with God” despite living in adultery.
Moreover, Müller affirms that the teaching of John Paul II on the “intrinsic impossibility” of public adulterers partaking of the Blessed Sacrament without an amendment of life is “not dispensable” and is “not only a positive law of John Paul II” but also “an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments.”
Finally, and most staggeringly, Müller declares that “neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change” the very Eucharistic discipline whose overthrow Francis clearly condones. That revolution is now underway — with Francis’ obvious approval — in Buenos Aires, Malta, Germany, Austria, certain American dioceses, the very Diocese of Rome and a growing number of other places throughout the Catholic world — while other dioceses try to maintain the traditional teaching and discipline against the storm Francis has unleashed.
And yet, in this most recent interview, Müller continues to pretend that what is happening has nothing to do with Francis and his disastrous document. Instead, he blames “so many bishops” for “interpreting ‘Amoris Laetitia’ according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine.” Please! It is the Pope’s explicitly stated understanding of his own teaching, conveyed in writing to the bishops of Buenos Aires, that does not “keep the line of Catholic doctrine.”
Müller continues: “The magisterium of the pope is interpreted only by him or through the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the pope, this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church.” But Francis has already made it clear to the bishops that “there is no other interpretation” of AL than the one now being implemented in the revolutionary dioceses, to which Francis has provided nothing but a green light.
The bishops whom Müller attempts to make solely responsible for the debacle whose origin is the Pope’s own document are, says Müller, running “the risk of the blind leading the blind.” But what of the Pope who says “there is no other interpretation” of AL than the very one they have given the document?
With remarkable disingenuousness, Müller warns the bishops following Francis’ lead to avoid “entering into any casuistry that can easily generate misunderstandings, above all that according to which if love dies, then the marriage bond is dead. These are sophistries: the Word of God is very clear and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage.” But the casuistry in question emerges directly from the pages of AL, ¶¶ 300-305: i.e., that through “discernment” of the “complexity of one’s limits” a particular public adulterer can be deemed unburdened by mortal sin and admitted to Holy Communion while continuing sexual relations with someone to whom he is not married, whereas another public adulterer might not be deemed admissible because his “limits” are insufficient to excuse his adultery. And what is this if not a kind of neo-Pharisaical casuistry, just as Bishop Athanasius Schneider suggests?
And, finally, the pretense that underlies this entire charade: “It is not ‘Amoris Laetitia’ that has provoked a confused interpretation, but some confused interpreters of it.” Given the events that have followed in rapid succession immediately after AL’s appearance, including the Pope’s own statements, Cardinal Müller cannot possibly expect any reasonably informed member of the faithful to take his affirmation seriously.
So the question presents itself: How much longer will this game go on? That is, how much longer will Müller facilitate Francis’ clearly subversive designs by falsely suggesting that Francis does not approve their implementation by the very bishops who are his obvious collaborators?
Müller himself declares that “neither an angel, nor the pope” has the power to change the teaching now being overthrown in diocese after diocese. It is long past time for Müller, joining the four courageous cardinals who have publicly presented their dubia to Francis, to drop the pretense and do everything in his power, publicly as well as privately, to address the rapidly spreading collapse of traditional sacramental discipline at its astonishing source: the current occupant of the Chair of Peter.